Thursday, July 26, 2012

Happy Trails, Sasha Minor

Earlier today, Alex Semin signed a one year deal with Carolina, worth $7 million.  Seven strange years, 469 regular season games, 51 more in the playoffs, and countless memories later, one of the most eclectic players to don the skates has departed for browner, though still green, pastures.

Alex Semin caught a lot of flack in his time in DC.  From his mysterious, sudden departure in 03-04, to his taking the NHL by storm in his triumphant return in 06-07, to his playoff disappointment this past Spring, Semin was full of both ups and downs.  We will always remember his flashy moves and streaky play; DC's response to Alexei Kovalev.  At times the best player in the league - NHL points leader in 08-09 until a December back injury derailed him - and at times an overpaid underachiever, Semin will serve as a reminder in DC to what could have been.

Semin, quite possibly more than any other Capital in our team's history, embodied what it meant to be a Capital; from a fan's perspective.  His enigmatic ways always left us wanting more - who else in the league could score a hat trick, make a single turnover, and be a villain? - just like the team's disappointments in the playoffs.  Semin is very much a superstar, unwilling at that, but there is something missing.  It is difficult to quite put a finger on it though, which is why both he and the team failed.  If he can put the package together, for a few years at a time, if ever given the chance, then Semin very well may end up in Toronto when all is said and done.

According to Angus Certified, Semin was a fantastic linemate and actually a very solid defensive player, something that most people around the league do not want to believe.  The site also argues, indirectly, that Semin was a good team player, since he adapted his game effectively to both new team strategies and new coaches.  Yet, if you were to ask Marc Crawford, or Pierre HugMePleaseSid McGuire, Semin is Keyser Söze, the evilest villain [in sport].

So what caused this disparity in opinions?  Was it his refusal to speak English with reporters?  Was it his streaky play?  Was it his reported offers to play in Russia?  Maybe he just does not "want it bad enough", whatever that means?  Or is it xenophobia?  Are people scared of him because he is that weird, quiet Russian?  Who knows?

I do not have an answer for that.  There is something about Alex that is just... off.  I do not know how to quite put it into words. 

So, Alex, we bid you farewell.  Please take it easy on us.  

Worst of all for Caps fans, we will no longer have Semin serenading us with his musical stylings.  I present you, one last time, Alex Semin, bongo player extraordinaire!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Rick Nash: Newest Ranger

Today, July 23rd, 2012, after months of speculation, Rick Nash has finally been traded from the only NHL team he has ever known.  The 28 year-old captain of the Blue Jackets, who was drafted first overall back in 2002, was dealt to the New York Rangers for a pair of NHL players, a prospect, and a first round draft pick.

The players: Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov.  The prospect: Tim Erixon.  The draft pick: 2013.

Why this deal is good for Columbus: The Blue Jackets finally moved the heart and soul of the franchise, who made it clear that he wanted out, after 9 seasons of ineptitude, resulting in a single playoff berth which lasted a total of 4 games.  In return, they receive a top 6 forward in Anisimov, who will cause plenty of cannons to go off in Columbus.  Brandon Dubinsky, a 26 year old American who was drafted 60th overall in 2004, was forced to make the adjustment from top 6 to bottom 6, and did so without a complaint.  He exemplified what it meant to be a Ranger under Torts; hard work, team oriented play, and honest.  His grittiness, willingness to fight for his teammates - while giving up a lot of size at times - and heart, made him the ultimate teammate.  Now he will take his talents to the Midwest.

Tim Erixon was drafted 23rd overall by the Calgary Flames in 2009 but was unable to come to terms.  In turn, he was traded to the Rangers for a pair of second rounders and a prospect, where he finally signed, and made his NHL debut, playing in 18 games.  This still very raw talent has a large upside and is rated highly on  The BJs are quietly accumulating a solid defense corps, adding Erixon's potential to that of 2nd overall draft pick Ryan Murray, and existing NHLers Jack Johnson, James Wisniewski, Nikita Nikitin, and Fedor Tyutin.  Not exactly the Avalanche of 2001, but respectable nonetheless.

The draft pick should be a late first rounder, which, according to TSN's Scott Cullen, has a 5.6-27.3% chance of being an impact player.  Assuming the Rangers win one playoff series, this pick will land anywhere between 23rd and 30th overall. 

Why this deal is bad for Columbus: Losing the face of the franchise for a team that finished 27th in attendance last year is not a good marketing plan.  A team that already had a hard enough time luring prime free agent talent may have just lost the only thing attracting potential big names.  If Erixon does not turn out to be a stud, and/or the first rounder is not an impact player, the trade could look very one-sided in New York's favor.

Why this deal is good for New York: The Rangers, yet again, land the big fish.  A year removed from signing Brad Richards to the biggest deal of the 2011 offseason, the Rangers are able to pry Rick Nash from the Blue Jackets.  Nash brings size, strength, delicate hands, leadership, durability, and a serious hunger to win - all things that spell Rangers hockey. 

Why this deal is bad for New York: The Rangers are now in serious salary cap trouble; having four players earning more than $6.5 against the cap for the next two seasons.  Those four players (Nash, Gaborik, Richards, and Lundqvist) earn a combined 41% of the $70.2 million salary cap for 2012.  That is simply not a sustainable business model.  Del Zotto and Stralman are still RFAs this year, McDonaugh, Sauer, Stepan, and Hagelin will be RFAs next year.  It may not be possible to re-sign all of those guys, so the Rangers may be forced to say goodbye to some serious young talent. 

Also, we do not know what will happen with the new CBA.  Perhaps the league decides that burying players in the minors because of poor contract decisions will be against the rules, so Wade Redden and his $6.5 million cap hit through 2013 could potentially be forced onto the Rangers books.

The Atlantic Division is looking dangerous right now.

Big Game Hunter

The Capitals finally named the fourth member of the coaching staff, rounding it out with Tim Hunter.  One of the toughest to ever lace 'em up (8th all-time in PIMs, thank you very much), Hunter is familiar with the organization and with his fellow coaches, having previously coached in DC from 97-02 as an assistant, including the famed Cup run of '98.

A long time assistant coach of Ron Wilson, Hunter has spent the better part of the the past 30 years working with the NHL.  His expertise and wealth of knowledge will prove key, as Hunter brings the most experience to a relatively green coaching staff.  Between Oates, Johansson, and Kolzig, the three have coached a total of four years in the NHL.

For those who were unaware, Hunter is widely considered to be one of the better fighters of all-time.  This thread from serves as strong proof.

Grade: A+!  I wanted Berube, but instead we bring in a guy who has far more coaching experience, and a Stanley Cup to boot.  Hunter should have a profound impact on the way the players approach the game. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Shea Weber, and how he can affect the new CBA

The last week has been an exciting one for hockey fans.  In addition to a few big name defenseman being named coaches, the obvious big news has been regarding the CBA negotiations and the Shea Weber monster offer sheet of $110 million dollars over 14 years with the Philadelphia Flyers.

While offer sheets are nothing new, they are always a testy issue - ask Brian Burke or Dave Nonis what they think.  There are some pretty strong reasons why they are rarely used in the NHL.  Though, this is the second time the Flyers have done so since the lockout.  Think what you will about that.

The offer sheet that Weber signed was reportedly heavily front loaded, with Weber being due $26 million within the first 11 months.  That is no problem for a team backed by Comcast, with a rapid fan base, and who is two years removed from a Stanley Cup birth.  However, for a team that was sold for $174 million in 2007, that was valued at $163 million this past November, that may present a serious problem.

This becomes an NHL-wide issue when considering the one of the major purposes of instituting the salary cap back in 05-06; parity.  The salary cap, in essence, prevents one team from offering such huge contracts that there is no hope for smaller markets to match.  Thus, teams like the Detroit Red Wings of the '90s would be prevented from acquiring high priced talent that other teams just could not afford.

Shea Weber's deal is certainly not unique (Weber's long-time partner Suter also has a ridiculous front-loaded deal), however, the Predators essentially have their hands tied by the Flyers.  Surely, Weber is worth the money of the contract offer, but the question is how he should earn it.  If the Predators cannot afford to pay 16% of the team value within 11 months to their captain, then they have to let him walk for what is sure to be a series of late first round draft picks (which will do wonders for that market).  Or they can work out a trade, though, the wind is out of their sail, and they lose their bargaining chip. 

The problem with this offer sheet is neither with the contract length nor its dollar amount (though, the former may be changed in the upcoming CBA).  The problem is that it is so heavily front loaded, both circumventing the salary cap as well as bullying small markets.  As previously mentioned, a team without deep pockets simply may not be able to afford to pay the cash to a player up front.

Weber's deal, however it plays out, will certainly be discussed heavily in the next round of negotiations between players and owners.  Owners surely do not want to let the face of their franchise walk because they cannot afford to pay him - though a long term deal like Nicklas Backstrom's, whose salary increases as he reaches his prime, still are high dollar amounts, they are not front-loaded, which allows owners to plan around payments much easier.

For fans of teams like the Predators, if nothing changes, then the NHL is no better than the MLB.  The Pirates were, for years, the farm team of the Yankees, and received plenty of compensatory draft picks.  Do we want the same thing to happen in the NHL?  This is a chance for the owners to put up or shut up.  You want long-term, front loaded contracts done with?  Well this is your chance.  If nothing is done, then expect to see a lot more poaching in the next few years.  Edmonton may get hit pretty hard by that one.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Calle Love

A few hours ago, Calle Johansson was named Assistant Coach of the Capitals, bringing back a third member of the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals winning Washington squad.  Johansson was one of the best defensemen in our team's history, still holding the records for points and assists among blueliners, in addition to having played the most games of any Capital.

His work ethic, dedication, and leadership will help this young defense corps in DC (5 of the 9 defensemen the Capitals have are 26 or younger).  While Johansson was never the best defenseman in the league, or even on the team, he was a steady, reliable presence and a solid contributor who should be able to provide useful insight into making the unit work together more cohesively. 

Which leaves us with one remaining slot for an assistant coach.  Since it appears the Caps are interested in alumni and former teammates, I would love to see us draw in Chief from the Flyers, or maybe convince Rod Brind'Amour to start coaching.

I have been saying for years we need to get tougher, especially with the gloves down.  Chief was one of the toughest in the business for years, and has been an assistant coach for a few years now in Philly.  He has had the chance to pick up some much needed playoff experience, and since our coaching staff is essentially full of rookies, he would be a big help.

Brind'Amour captained the Carolina Hurricanes to the franchise's only Stanley Cup victory, and played alongside Oates for two years in St. Louis as teen.  Rod exemplified hard work and preparation as his career progressed, and his workout plans were the stuff of legend.  Adding a mind like this to the coaching staff could do wonders not only for the young kids looking to make the squad, but also for the seasoned vets like Ovechkin and Green who have struggled down the stretch.

Hey, it could happen, right?

Grade: B.  This is a safe move at worst, but certainly not a home run swing.  It is still too early to predict his impact, but if history serves as lesson, the best impact is not noticing anything.  Smooth, efficient. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Seeing Green

Mike Green, after rejecting the Capitals $5 million offer sheet on Sunday, inked a 3 year deal worth $18.25 million.  Green is now under contract until he turns 29.

Three years is a good length for a player with the injury history of Green - he has missed 81 games combined in the past two seasons.  As a result, his effectiveness has vastly decreased.  The first defenseman in over a decade to score over one point per game over the course of a season (recording this in back-to-back seasons) has scored a measly 31 points in his last 83 games. 

Though, Green obviously has his flaws, aside from being injury prone.  His defensive game is far from elite, and for a top pair guy, I would like to see him turn the puck over less (he has hovered around one giveaway per game since entering the league).

That being said, Green is a very good defenseman who eats a lot of minutes and quarterbacks our power play.  When compared to his cap-hit comparables, including such superstars as James Wisniewski, Wade Redden, Brent Seabrook, Jay Bouwmeester, and that big turd Tyler Myers, this deal seems pretty reasonable.

Grade: A-.  Always good to get the core locked up, even if he might be getting paid more than we like.  Contract length makes up for the salary.

All we have left is Carlson...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wojtek Wolski to the Caps!

Yesterday, the Capitals and Wolski agreed to terms on a one year deal worth $600k. 

Wolski, 26, is an enigma.  Will he be the player that the Avalanche traded for Mueller and Kevin Porter, who went on to score 18 points in 18 games that year in Phoenix?  Or will he be the guy who scored 37 points in the following 104 games?  Will Wolski use his 6'3" 215 lb frame to muscle guys in the corner and earn top line minutes with Ovechkin and Backstrom?  Or will he show us why he is now playing for his 5th NHL team in what is now his 8th NHL season?  Will Wolski justify his 21st overall draft selection in the same year that produced Ovechkin, Schultz, and Green for the Capitals?

Wolski comes in as a top 6 forward, which is armed robbery given his salary.  Considering that Brouwer was 6th among forwards in even strength ice time last year, averaging 13:31 per night, if Wolski somehow manages to surpass Troy's whopping 33 points, he will have earned his paycheck.

And of course, I am thrilled that the third ever Polish NHLer is now a member of the home team.  Have to be excited about that.

Grade: A-.  Wolski isn't the best player available, or even the best fit for what our offense needs, but his bargain price makes this look like a steal - on paper.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Free Agent Tough Guys

According to hockey fight website, these enforcers are still available:

Jay Rosehill*
DJ King*
Eric Godard*
PL Letourneau-Leblond*
Zach Stortini*
Alex Henry
Tim Conboy
Francis Lessard
Joel Rechlicz

 Those with an asterisks are expected to sign two-way deals.

Some other tough guys, who are not enforcers, but are definitely fighters:

Brad Winchester
Tom Kostopoulos
 Jim Vandermeer
Matt Bradley
Sean Avery

Of course, all of these guys are deserved of signing one-way deals, but I would not be surprised to see Avery go on unsigned.

As it stands, the Capitals have 12 forwards signed to NHL deals, 7 defensemen, and 2 goalies.  Still, Mike Green and John Carlson are unsigned, and it is expected that the two of them will soak up much of the remaining $17 million in cap room.  Though it would appear the team has geared for a trade, bringing in Jack Hillen to a defense corps that was already thick in third pair blue liners, assuming no trades happen, the roster may not change very much.

Though, we have no muscle in Hershey, or on the Capitals.  It would be nice to see Recker back with a two-way deal, especially since the East toughened up a bit.  Otherwise, get used to another year of being pushed around, and more undeserved, preventable injuries.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Capitals sign minor leaguer

Not breaking news, but the Capitals came to terms with UFA Ryan Stoa, to a one year, two way deal. 

Since you probably don't know who he is, here's some background info:

25 years old
Born in Bloomington, MN
6'3" 200 lbs
2nd round draft pick (2005)

Stoa hasn't been an impact player in the NHL, having played 37 games with Colorado, scoring 7 points.  Though, he has averaged .62 points per game in the AHL level over the past three seasons, with a career high of 40 points achieved in 2010 (in 54 games!). 

Which means this move is nothing more than a depth signing for the Bears.  Stoa is not a game changer in the NHL, but he can fill in fourth line minutes if a guy like Beagle or Hendricks goes down with injury.  Though, I don't think Stoa makes the Caps at all - he played sparingly for an Avs team that was very thin at forward. 

Grade: C-.  This move is irrelevant from the NHL perspective, but is a smart AHL move.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Caps re-sign two

Mathieu Perreault gets a two year deal worth $2.1 million, representing a pay raise of $525,000 over last year's salary.  Jay Beagle signed a three year deal worth $2.7 million, which is a $387,500 pay raise.

I'm not a fan of either guy, but they've both worked hard to become NHL regulars.  I still think Perreault is too small to be a solid contributor, as he isn't physical enough to be an effective bottom six forward, and I don't think he's talented enough for top six.  But he's a great skater and his teammates seem to like him.  He improved quite a bit this year, and he earned some power play time as well, averaging one minute per game.  I still would like to see him packaged in a deal to bring in a top liner, but for the meantime, it's a good signing of a Capital draftee.

Beagle is a big Western Canadian boy who played a pretty gritty game in the minors that hasn't translated to the NHL.  He doesn't offer much in the way of offense (10 points in 82 career NHL games), though, he didn't have much of an opportunity to score, averaging fewer than 12 minutes per game.  Beagle was sixth among forwards in PK time, at 1:03/game, and averaged .98 hits/shift, which was fourth among forwards (behind Hendricks, Brouwer, and Ovechkin).  He also tied for third among forwards along with Knuble in blocked shots per shift, behind Laich and Hendricks.

Beagle can represent a solid fourth line contributor, though I would like to see him be more physical with the puck, and maybe drop the mitts a few times (though not against seasoned vets who are consistently considered among the toughest p4p guys in the league).

Grades: Perreault B-, Beagle B-.  These are flexible, home-grown players who contribute in a variety of ways and should be expected to take on slightly bigger roles in the next two to three years.  Neither are long-term top six caliber, but are fillers who are very valuable for building a Cup contender. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Caps sign Joey Crabb

The first big move of free agency so far for the Capitals was the signing of Joey Crabb to a one year, one way deal worth $950k.

Crabb is a decent depth forward, who won't make the team any better or worse.  Pretty much just a stop gap.  Still, he offers nice flexibility when injuries occur. 

Grade: C-/C.  Passing grade, but not an important piece.

Caps get their man!

Jack Hillen, one year, $650k!

I actually don't mind this deal, even though we already have several 3rd pair defensemen (Hamrlik, Schultz, Erskine, Poti if healthy), provided we make a trade.  Otherwise... what's the point?

Too early to grade this one.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Defense wins championships

Does it?  Is that why we don't have any rings?

Green, Hamrlik, Carlson, Alzner, Orlov, Erskine, Poti, Schultz.

Doesn't read much like a Cup-winning roster.  Assuming Suter and Garrison aren't on our radar (damn!), who's left?

Carle, Kuba, Souray, Salo, Hannan, Aucoin, Salvador, Martinek, Roszival, Kubina, Allen.

I've been calling for Schultz's trade for years, but his value is probably at an all-time low.  And the FA market isn't looking like an easy fix.  The only way to work on the defense is through a trade, but are the Caps willing to look for the right fit?  We need a puck mover, but Carle is nothing more than a lesser version of Green.  Another defenseman who's average in the defensive zone won't help.

Would Bouwmeester be interested in playing here?  I just hope we don't sign another 35 year older who's been washed up for years.

10:52 PM UPDATE:

Filip Kuba signs in Florida, 2 years, $8 mil.  That sound you hear is Matt Carle and Jason Garrison giving each other high fives.

Free Agent Friend-zy

9:18 PM

(I live in Russia)

Looks like Semin is moving on.  I can't say I'm surprised, or that I'm sad to see him go.  A fun player to watch, but too lazy to make a serious impact.

But we still need a top 6 winger.  If we let Semin walk, then we can't replace him with a poor man's Semin and expect to improve.  Sorry, PA, we're just not that into you.

Alex Ponikarovsky is an interesting option.  He's big, speaks Russian (hey, you gotta throw Ovechkin a bone), and should come relatively cheap (he earned $1.5 million last year).

Peter Mueller is another one.  Big, young, but coming off of a serious concussion problem.  He could be a nice fit on the top line wing.

Dustin Penner is a mixed bag.  He has two Cups, but he's lazy.  Though, he's huge, and will go into corners.  Hey, it's worth a shot, right?

12:10 AM UPDATE:

Poni signed with Winnipeg, and Penner re-signed in LA.  Sweet.